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Term of the Week: Glossary

What is it?

Alphabetical list of terms and definitions that is used consistently by all stakeholders of a specific project or product, including localization.

Why is it important?

Glossaries support localization efforts by eliminating ambiguity in how terms are used in specific contexts, which, in turn, improves communication and translation. Glossaries intended for internal use or by the localization vendor tend to be more detailed than those intended for customers.

Why does a technical communicator need to know this?

Glossaries help to ensure that all stakeholders in a given project or product can share information effectively. To be effective in culturally specific contexts, glossaries should be created collaboratively with product and localization professionals.

Generally, glossaries play these important roles:

  • ensure a consistent use of terms by people and electronic systems
  • provide definitions of terms most important to a subject, product, or project
  • account for the cultural context in which words are being used

In creating the glossary term and definition, you must consider how local application could affect that definition.

Words included in a glossary vary based on project need and are likely to include technical terms, project-proprietary terms, and other, more general, terms that might be easily misinterpreted.

For localization, an effective glossary definition needs additional details:

  • parts of speech
  • definitions expressed in the words and syntax that will be most easily understood by the intended audience(s)
  • the context in which the definition applies
  • an example of usage
  • preferred term in each target language

Depending on the audience and purpose of a glossary, it could be published in a variety of formats and media. Localization experts should be familiar with several types of glossaries including term bases and published glossaries that are delivered to end users.

Glossaries and term bases are related, but not identical. Term bases are comprehensive for the company or product line, and typically contain more detail about the term than the glossary does. Term bases are usually intended for internal use by the content development and localization teams[Kohl 2008][Walmer 1999].


About Pam Estes Brewer

Photo of Pam Estes Brewer

Dr. Pam Estes Brewer is a technical communicator, educator, and management consultant. She teaches in Mercer University's School of Engineering. She researches remote teaming, and her book entitled International Virtual Teams: Engineering Global Success was published in 2015. She is a Certified Online Training Professional, a Fellow in the Society for Technical Communication, and an Associate Editor for IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication.

Term: Glossary


Twitter: @brewerpe